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Chicken or Beef

This article was written by Simon Gear.

Forget carbon footprints.  Water is the big bear in the woods for South Africa.  Already, it seems like Cape Town barely needs a week of sun in winter to set them back for the rest of the year. Everywhere else relies on ingenious but massive projects to shift water over mountains and between reservoirs to ensure that our towns don’t run dry.

As more and more of us live in cities and get used to the luxury of year round fruit from the supermarket and a clean, cool drink every time we open the tap, it has become easy to forget that South Africa is a fundamentally dry country.

Take a look out of your airplane window.  From 30 000ft, South Africa looks brown and dusty.  Even the few dams that you can spot are likely to be a muddy, shallow orange, rather than the deep blue-green of Europe’s lakes.  We have managed to do the most astonishing job of keeping clean water flowing through our pipes even when most of our landscape is semi-desert.

But as our world continues to warm, one of the predicted effects on South Africa is an increase in the variability of our rainfall.  In other words, wet years will get wetter and droughts will be more severe. Overall, our summer rainfall should increase slightly but that masks the truth that water supply is going to get a lot harder to control over the next 50 years.  Add to that an ever growing and increasingly urbanised population and the pie is getting cut into smaller and smaller slices every year.

So what’s the plan?  The first step is to literally step back in time.  1960s South African suburbia was a far more resource conscious place than it is now. Every house captured rain off its roof and we watered our gardens with watering cans, not hoses.  We let our grass go brown in winter and ate whatever fruits and vegetables were available in season.  Life was simpler, more thoughtful and far greener.  A great uncle of mine kept healthy by pledging to refuse any food invented after 1964 and lived to a ripe old age on home-grown veg and the occasional piece of chicken.  It’s time we made a move to the simpler life too.

For years doctors have been banging on about treating meat as a condiment rather than a main course.  Now it’s the greenie beanies turn too.  While getting everyone to go vegetarian isn’t realistic (or even necessarily good for us), cutting down on the amount of meat we South Africans eat is not a bad idea. A portion of meat takes literally hundreds of times more water, energy and space to produce than the equivalent veggie option. Making the commitment to limit meat to a once a day meal will go further to cutting your impact on the planet than pretty much anything you do.  And an added bonus is that if your next meal has to be vegetarian, you’ll find it almost impossible to buy it from a fast food outlet.  My great uncle would be chuffed.



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